The Flex and Flux of Publishing (Part 2)

For authors and editors, the call is a bit direr. As more and more books go digital and the sales of regular books are shrinking, authors may find themselves in an increasingly limited industry. Editors must report to editorial boards, which are more driven by bottom-line productivity, thus editors spend less time developing authors’ niche talent. And as book publishers scramble to make ends meet, authors will have an even smaller pool of capital to count on for up-front costs. This means the only people who will be authoring books are the same people who already have enough money to survive on an artist’s salary. The good news is that there is still a wide range of opportunities to write, and to publish, without necessarily becoming an author.

One example which recently came to my attention is ghostwriting. With ghostwriting, you don’t end up with any of the critical acclaim or public accreditation of your work; however, “Ghostwriting is one of the more likely ways to get to write for large and important audiences” (Nemko). Blogs are another example of an excellent opportunity to write. And surprisingly, these different options appear to pay very well.

Apart from the production of books, there is another important and less understood aspect of this whole industry: the reader. Regular people who read an occasional book or magazine are the forgotten and unknown variable in all of this. The times continue to change because of – or in spite of – the regular people, sustaining the status quo, or railing against it. But in the land of change, what becomes of the status quo? Or, for that matter, regular people? Well, they must change too. And in fact, people are finding new ways to adapt, downloading free content online, accessing content on the go with mobile devices, and still picking up the occasional book or magazine from the discount wrack. As the regular person becomes more technology savvy, they must keep in mind that books are still just another form of technology. We may consider books as this great vestige of the old world knowledge gatherers, and simply expect them to be a permanent fixture in our culture. But the blatant truth is that technology changes, and with it people develop all new career expectations and cultural icons.

For now, books and book publishing are safe. But what are they really doing for the world? Is there such a thing as a sustainable book publisher? Is there a model for knowledge acquisition that doesn’t involve destroying life and the planet? Is it possible to know all about something without destroying that thing? Or is knowledge limited by the very limits of one’s destructiveness?

To learn how a book was made, I destroyed the book. I used a razor and cut it apart at the seams and peeled back the inside cover to see all the different parts. So it would appear that my knowledge about that book is directly proportional to my destruction of it. Our only way to know things is by taking them apart, but this could change. People could develop a new way to acquire knowledge by putting things together. Instead of thinking about publishers, marketers, authors, editors, and their audience as all separate entities with their own isolated conditions and fragmented problems, perhaps we could discover something new about all of these groups by putting them together as one. Ultimately, we are all regular people, trying to adapt and hack out a living. In that way, our motivations are all the same.

What does all this mean for the young upstart, trying to become a writer/editor? The author/editor relationship is apparently changing; and furthermore, there is no “how to” guide on writing the next great American novel, and much less on finding the perfect niche, or the perfect author/editor relationship. But, the best advice I’ve gotten so far is to just keep writing. And reading. There’s still work to be done.

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